Warnings: Strong language, some violence, mild yaoi.
It's Catching Fire Except We're Not Killing People, But At Least There's Jenifer Lawrence
"Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken."
― Jane Austen, British Author
The Fangirl: December 25th
I barely had enough time to scream before the heat burst around us. I felt it seer against my skin, intense but never enough to actually leave a burn.
Shouts shook the air. Debri fell like rain onto Sadiq's solid back, enticing grunts of pain from his throat.
I cough, tasting the smoke in the air. The small rocks on the icy pavement dug into my cheeks and fought their way into my mouth. Sadiq had his hand in my hair, keeping me still in place. Delicately, like a puppet with broken strings, I moved my shaking arms into a sturdier position and pushed myself up. Sadiq, however, bore into me and my skinny arms crumpled beneath me. I tasted the ground again. I groaned, trying to peel my face away. "What the hell was that?" I asked.
Sadiq did not move. He remained poised in a half-squat, the fire from the building that just freaking blew up glowing red in his eyes and casting shadows on his face. He barely seemed to mind me, holding me in place as he gritted his teeth. "Damnit."
I pressed my lips and pushed him away, sitting up at last. I stared at the building fire. We had barely missed the explosion- a red brick building was permeating the hot fingers of fire and the black billows of smoke that accompanied it. I gaped at the damage, awed. "What the hell was that?" I breathed quietly, barely loud enough for myself to hear. A soft ring was banging around inside of my ears, making it hard to hear anything besides my heart beat."
"The police station." Sadiq lowered his face and swore. He carefully reached into his pocket, pulling out the golden pocket watch. Sadiq stared at the lovely yellow for a moment before clutching it tightly. "Fuck. Estonia is part of the police force."
I gasped, pulling his jacket closer around my shoulders. "What? What are you saying?"
Sadiq stuck it back into his pocket and jumped to his feet. "I'm going in there," he said, all business as he brushed the powdery snow off his pants. "I need you to stay out of trouble while I'm gone. Don't talk to anyone."
Look- I'm not crazy. I knew better than to jump right into a burning building where I'll probably burn to death. But there was no way in hell I could leave Sadiq alone to venture into Estonia's territory. It screamed trap while flailing arms and streaking across an international soccer field. If I didn't know better, I would say that he wanted to run into Himaruya.
So being the good person I was, I ignored the growing pain in my back and scrambled to my feet. "I'm coming with you," I said.
"No you're not." He gave me a hard look, the stern kind I was used to getting from him. He stalked up to me, grabbing the back collar of my dress, like a dog to the scruff of his pups' necks. He pulled me up to my feet, his honey-colored eyes colder than the snow at his feet. "No offense, but it's a burning building, Sherry. You're not the first person I would choose to follow me inside."
"If I come, I'll make a lot of fire jokes," I jested, batting my eyelids. "Who would be better than getting that? Poland?"
He grimaced. "No, it'll crash his style. I was thinking more in the lines of-" He turned to the crowd, sticking his free hand into his mouth. A quick whistle shot through the air. "Hey! Switzy! Wanna go inside a burning building with me?"
My mouth dropped open. "Switzerland?" I repeated in disbelief. "You would take your ex over me?"
"I would take a sleep walking Greece over you."
I crossed my arms over my chest. "You owe me for not telling me what shea butter is."
Sadiq groaned, releasing me at last. "Jesus Christ, Sherry. It's been how long and you just didn't google the damn thing?"
I didn't have a chance to reply (if I did, I would have explained how simply googling the damn thing would have taken away all of the magic); Switzerland finally kicked his butt into jogging towards us. He looked the way he always did with strictly cropped blond hair and an equally stern face. The tip of his sharp nose was a bright red. "Turkey, my sister just ran into there," Switzerland said, burying his hands into the pockets of his green coat. "You have five seconds to tell me what's wrong because I need to kill that idiot Spain."
I gave him an odd look. "Spain?"
His green eyes suddenly rested on me, noticing me at last. "Yes, Seychelles. Spain," he said. I grimaced. Oh yeah, I was going to have to start going by that now, wasn't I? "She was just following him and now I need to run in there and kick his ass for dragging her into this mess."
"What a coincidence," Sadiq said, brightening considerably as he wrapped an arm around Switzerland's shoulders. "I need to go in there myself!"
I raised my hand. "And so do I!"
Switzerland opened his mouth to reply, but my mentor immediately stepped in front of him and blocked me from view. "No she isn't."
"Am to!" I piped, trying to crane my neck around his body. "I can make a Supernatural joke and it would be relevant for once!"
Switzerland rolled his eyes. "I don't care who's going, just let me go fetch my sister." With that, he started at a run towards the building. Sadiq turned to me, motioning for me to stay put before following. I frowned. He treated me as though I was some sort of mutt.
I huffed and started to run after them, calling, "Hey, wait for-" I trailed off, pausing mid-stride. The orange licks of flames were intensifying by the second, stray streaks stretching out from the windows and wall cracks of the burning building. I pressed my lips and gulped. "On second thought-" I stepped back as the men jumped through the smoking doorway. "-I'll stay here and keep watch."
Now don't get pissy with me- I was not going to be rash and jump into a fiery hellfire. I mean, it wasn't like I was running away from a monster that would eat the protagonist's mother. If he was still alive, Himaruya would not attack him yet. The bastard brought me back for a reason and I doubted that anything significant would happen without me. And besides, I would probably burn myself in there and I didn't want to give Seychelles another reason to hate me.
I rubbed the back on my neck. I wondered how she was doing. I could imagine her in the Void, stalking around aimlessly until the opportunity showed itself for her to jump back into her skin and be Hooker Sherry. A wry smile stretched across my face. What was fifteen year old me thinking- Hooker Sherry? What an awful name.
An immediate smile stretched across my face as I turned to face America. He was just as tall as I remembered, a goofy smile stretched onto his face as he looked down at me through the lens of his glasses. He had his hands buried in his iconic leather jacket, one that looked particularly warm. "Hey there America," I greeted happily, mimicking his visage. "What up?"
He shrugged. "Nothing much. Haven't talked to you in a long time though."
I chuckled. Okay, Sherry. Play the part, be Seychelles. You did it once (and failed terribly) and you can do it again. "Yeah, it's been quite a while." I scratched the top of my head. "How long has it been for you exactly?" I asked.
America placed a finger on his chin, thinking. "Oh man, let's see . . . it's been, like, nearly two for me, but time's kind of a screwy shit so it's gotta be six years for you, right?"
The color drained from my face. Did I hear that right? I stood a small step back, shaking my head. "What-"
"Then again, time is, like, a really weird thing, man. Like someone people say its set in place and then movies are like 'no, it's completely subjective' and Dr. Who's all time wobbly stuff and I don't even know what the hell goes on in that show anymore. Not that I even watch it anymore. I mean, it's kind of racist since there hasn't been an ethic doctor yet, which also makes it sexist because, dude, Jennifer Lawrence would make an awesome, lesbian Doctor . . ."
While he rambled aimlessly, I opened and closed my mouth like a suffocating fish, sorting out his previous and relevant words. Very slowly, the pieces were coming together in my head. America the Stupid (and, apparently, extremely liberal) was not safe. I had to run, get out of there and back to safety.
I had to find Sadiq.
I stepped back, this time with the intent to turn on my heel and run for it.
America snatched my wrist, sending a wince of pain up my am. I yelped, my instincts immediately calling for me to yank my arm free, but his grip was cold iron and I could barely twitch without causing myself pain. America drew back my attention with a humored laugh, an ugly smirk on his face. "Hold on, Sherry." He chuckled. "I'm not done yet."
I screamed, but before any of the surrounding civilians could notice, America slapped a hand over my mouth.
His hand was freezing.
He held back my voice, hushing me like a child. I tried to scratch and hit him, but none of my blows seemed to even entice the smallest of blinks. I gave up, resigning myself to come up with a new plan. Maybe if I stalled long enough, Sadiq would come outside and rescue me.
But what if he was having problems himself?
America removed his hand, only to replace it with a single finger. Every inch of his orange tinted, white skin was crawling with that disgusting smugness. I growled and tried to bite his finger clean off. He pulled his finger away, laughing as my teeth clamped down upon nothing.
"C'mon, Sherry. Don't be like that," he said. "I just want to ask you something." America leaned in until I could feel his cold breath along the ridge of my ear. I wanted to close my eyes and pretend that he wasn't here, but fear had me blindingly aware of his every movement. My chest flamed with the anxious desire to push him aside, but his voice, barely louder than a whispered, reigned me into place. "I'm looking for something: a pair of glasses. You might've heard of them. They're rectangular, good quality, pretty hard to break. They used to belong to my dad, Himaruya. Heard of them?"
My legs were weak, shaking. All of the heat radiating off of the building was lost on me as a new flush of cold rushed through my veins. I glanced around nervously, hoping that someone in the crowd would notice this asshole. But their eyes were elsewhere and whatever looks we received were quickly dismissed. I felt the panic sprout in my skin . . .
But I was not fifteen anymore.
I closed my eyes and breathed. I was older now, and with age meant wisdom. I could find a way out of this situation if I really tried, I just had to find it. "Well, Sherry?' America asked again, the impatience edging his voice. "What do you have to say to that? I know that Sadiqgave them to you. All you just have to do is tell me where they are and we'll send you home no problem."
"Really?" I opened my eyes and looked at him, up and down. I saw my opportunity.
A few summers ago, my friend, Bella, dragged me to a Woman's Rape Prevention Class at a local martial arts studio. For two days a week for seven weeks we had to stand in a hot room, with no air conditioning, with a group of six thirteen year olds. All of us were sweating in heavy canvas pants as we wrestled and hit each other while our feet stuck to the blue mat beneath us. I broke my nose while I was there. Bella underestimated her strength and my ability to block and accidentally collided her fist with my nostrils, but that is a different story. The main point was that even though I barely paid attention to the class, I learned one very important rule: when in doubt, aim for the balls.
A devious grin appeared on my face, despite all of my efforts to remain stoic. I said, "There's just one problem about that." I kicked my leg up and in between his legs.
America hollered, releasing his grip in order to clutch his groin.
I couldn't help it: I did a little victory dance, tugging my sleeves and moving my arms like a rapper. "Ha! Women's Rape Prevent class pulls through again! In your face!" America glared up at me, the danger in his eyes accentuated by his red face and messy bangs. I knew a murder sentence when I saw one and, like Sensei told me, once I hit the perpetrator, I "ran like hell."
So I turned my heels and made a mad dash for it, America's pants on the back of my neck.
Seychelles was a fast runner, as fast as I remembered her being. Even in the snow, the scenery zipped past me in a blur of lights and colors. I was able to keep a good distance between us, but I still dove into a crowd of people who were rushing towards the fire. I yanked their shoulders aside, swearing as I glanced to see if America was still behind me.
He was, but he was having a better time navigating our little detour than I was.
I swore and broke free, starting my way back to Seychelles's apartment building. I could probably run into any of the store along the way and be granted sanctuary, but I didn't know for sure if they were safe. I needed to go to a place where I knew I had allies. My feet slid on the ground as I made the final last turn. I somehow balanced myself in time and quickly sped through the glass doors.
My wet feet glided on the marble floors easily, letting me float my way across the room. The attendant at the desk gave me an odd look, scrunching his eyebrows before pretending he didn't see anything. I was starting to like this guy. I reached the elevators as the doors dinged and slid open, revealing Ari.
I smiled in relief, flinging myself unshamefully at him. "Ari!"
His eyes went wide before he stiffly caught my frantic hug. "Sherry, what's wrong?" He asked. "Why are you running-"
America burst through the door then, dusted in snow that melted from the heat of his anger.
I gulped and pointed. "He's with Himaruya."
Ari knew what to do. He hit the elevator button with his elbow and quickly dragged me through the doors before they were fully opened. Ari shoved me to the wall, putting me in aside as he jammed his finger into the right buttons. All the while, America ran towards us, huffing loudly.
Terror struck me as Ari swore loudly, cursing the entirety of his country as he pounded the 'close door' button. "C'mon, work!" He glanced up, America barely five feet away. "Fuck it!" Ari kicked it.
The doors started to slide shut.
I watched America's eyes broke from their narrow glare into wide in shock before he made one last sprint to the door. He was barely able to slip his hand through the closing crack, causing the doors to ding and slide apart again. Ari scowled and punched the hand away, causing Alfred to yelp and stumble back.
Ari banged his hand into the button again and the doors finally closed, taking us out of danger at last.
He sighed, leaning over and placing his hands on his knees, panting. "Oh God- and to think I was just about to go look for you," he said. He glanced at me as I leaned against the wall, finally feeling my erratic heart calm. "What was that about?" He wiped his silvery bangs out of his eyes. "Where's Pops?"
"America's apparently Himaruya's son and he wants the glasses back," I explained quickly. My temples were pounding. "And Sadiq . . ." I balked, a new strong of fear wrapping around me. My nerves shook my body, making my hands unsteady as I placed them on the sides of my head. "I . . . shit . . ." Sadiq- I left him behind, didn't I? I left him in the fire (literally) while there was still a high chance that Himaruya would reveal himself.
My Icelandic friend refused to break his cool composure, instead looking stoic as he placed a hand on my shoulder. "What happened?" he asked sternly. "What did you do?"
I shook my head. I had to tell my hands not to hit him. "I left him behind, Ari," I said, the pain evident in my voice. Tears threatened to breach the brim of my eyes, but I didn't want to lose my head. I already acted rashly today and look where it got me- having an emotional episode of regret, in an elevator, with the most emotionless person I knew. "We need to go back and get him, before-"
To my surprise, Ari shook his head. "Think this through, Sherry," he ordered solemnly. "Everything can be a trap and we have to consider this to be one as well. I'll say that it's pretty likely that America's still in the lobby and is waiting for his chance to face us once again."
"But we can't just leave Sadiq behind!" I shouted.
"Yes, we can." A ding! echoed on the walls and the doors slid open, revealing the residential hallway my mentor had escorted me down not an hour earlier. Ari took my hands in his, coaxing me to my feet. "Sadiq is a lot stronger than you think," he told me, walking backwards as he guided me back to Seychelles's apartment. "Whatever's out there- a fire or America or Himaruya -he can take care of himself. We just have to trust him until then."
I glanced back at the elevator, wanting to rush back in and bang my hand on the down bottom, but I knew that he was right. Sadiq was strong, the strongest person I knew. He could defend himself from whatever's going on. Reluctantly, I nodded. "Alright."
"Okay." Ari dropped my hands. "Let's go back to the apartment and you can explain to me and France and England exactly what happened out there."
I frowned, sadly letting him call the moves. I didn't remember Ari ever being so bossy, but back then, Ari wasn't knee deep in the mess. Back then, he didn't have to be my rock. I allowed him to lead me away, praying that Sadiq would come back alright.
The Fanboy: December 25th
"You know, running into a burning building is not the smartest thing to do," Antonio said, jogging at a quick rate right next to me.
I shrugged as I continued running, heading straight towards the fire. The hands of logic twisted my stomach like a rag, demanding harshly that I listened to it. I knew nothing of the physics of how police stations burned. I was going in there blind, risking third degree burns and ash-filled lungs. I was toying with death.
Still, I was eager.
Not about the whole possibly dying part, of course. But I wanted to run in there and yank Lars away before he did anything irrational, anything that he would later regret. I didn't want anyone else to screw things up beyond repair. Heaven knows I've already fracked up with Jerry and everything . . .
Antonio grabbed my shoulder and pulled me to a stop. He turned me towards him and pushed a wet white cloth into my hands. "Here." I looked between it and him with a raised brow. "Hold it over your mouth and nose," he said, a light smile gracing his face. "It'll keep out the ash. Also, take off your bag. You don't want it to get burned."
I nodded. He was forcing that smile, that much I could tell. He didn't want me to run in there. But I had to redeem myself somehow. I didn't want to feel like I was a douchebag. "Thank you." I tried to look hopeful, but the twist in my gut made me want to barf. I slipped my backpack off my shoulder and tossed it into a nearby alley way. "C'mon," I said. "The fire's only getting worse."
Again, Antonio was forced to chase after me.
The police station was made of red brick and white concrete with a small set of stairs leading up to glass doors. A few members of the crowd dared to stray a few paces close to the first step, but the majority remained a safe distance away, worriedly whispering to each other. We threaded our way through them, the heat growing more intense with each hurried step. I felt like the Gingerbread Man, except I was running to the oven, not away.
I knew that if I let myself think about it too much, I was going to find myself with cowardly feet stuck on the first step. Taking a deep breath, I cleansed my head of all sensible thoughts before kicking the glass front door into pieces. The shouts of the people behind me, begging me to stay put, barely registered in my head. They were the mere echoes that accompanied Antonio and I into the hellfire.
The heat was intense.
It was disorienting, making my head spin in extreme vertigo. Smoke filled my lungs and all I could do was placed my hands on my knees and cough. I felt awful. I thought I felt my skin blistering, but when I scratched my nails on my arms, I felt nothing out of place. My large eyes skimmed the room, slowly registering the sight. The fire seemed to be mostly on the second floor, though little strands of the orange had infected the front walls. Inside, at what appeared to be a reception desk, was mostly just smoke and ash.
Antonio placed a hand on my back. "You have to breathe, Larry," he told me, uncurling my hand, the one with the cloth in it, and pressing it to my mouth. The damp coolness quelled some of my nerves and some of the air returned to me. "If you don't breathe, you will die." He held me like that for a long second, letting me breathe in and out. None of the air in the world was enough.
For a naive second, I couldn't figure out why I couldn't move, why I was quivering in a strange sort of paralysis. But the second it dawned on me, I could feel it looming over me like a haunting ghost.
I was dead terrified.
I squeezed my eyes shut, convincing myself that the tears were from the stinging smoke. A loud voice in my head screamed that I was going to die here. Not in the police station, but here in Hetalia. Everything from THE WAR was playing like an old movie behind my eyes, reminding me of the battles I ran away from, the people I had to hurt, the people I helplessly watched be hurt and betrayed.
I hated to say it, but I wanted my knives.
In the three years of everyday life where I had to pretend that Hetalia never happened, they became my comfort. I was still afraid of them; a finger brushed over the handle still sent a seizing thrill up my arm. But Belarus had told me that my fear made me in control of them. When I feared them, I was guaranteed protection for the people I love. Whenever I felt threatened or uncertain, I always knew that they were the one evil that I could bend to my will. And I wanted that now. I wanted to be in control of my situation, but with this fire entrapping me in probably the dumbest decision of my life, I only found myself falling more and more into disorder.
Antonio rubbed a circle into my back. His hand was tense. "Larry, we have to get moving," he urged. "If we don't hurry, we're going to be baked to death."
That was right- I had this idiot with me. I had to keep myself together, at least until we're out of danger. I will drop the strong facade when we're safe and sound, but right now I will pull my strings taut and go for it.
I wiped my hand down my face, straightening as I pressed the cloth on top of my mouth. "Sorry," I said, sounding softer than what I would have liked. I didn't want to appear weak. I looked around the room, seeing the fire start its spread to the floor. I flinched, but ordered myself to be strong. "Where's Lars?"
"Hey!" Two men jumped through the doorway and flames, their feet crunching the glass beneath them into dust. One of the men was more recognizable than the other. The first one was immediately recognizable with his cropped, corn colored hair. "Liechtenstein!" Switzerland shouted, running towards me. I went rigid, holding my tongue as I tried not to swear. Out of everyone in the stupid universe, it had to be him. Knowing him, he's going to butt his head into places it didn't need to go and make things more complicated than they were already.
The floor above him, however, creaked dangerously. Antonio and I had a moment to realize what was happening before the wood rafters above Switzerland split into two. Scaffolds and long chunks of wood came crashing down in a thunderous rain. I crossed my arms over my face as the debris kicked up the ash and dust. When I was sure that it was clear, I removed my cloth, coughed, and peered at the scene.
Switzerland's companion had pulled him back at the last second. It was a quick move, but not quick enough. I saw them both on the floor, face down and on their stomachs. But the dark haired companion was slowly picking himself up while Switzerland laid unmoving, a leg caught beneath one particularly heavy looking rafter.
It wasn't until the companion ran a hand over his face and hair did I recognize the face. "Holy shit," Turkey swore, scrambling to sit upright on the ground. He coughed, pressing his black sleeve into his face. "Switzy, are you-" Turkey picked up his hand and let it go.
It fell to the ground limply.
Turkey didn't waste any time. Coughing again, this time with much more difficulty, he placed two fingers at the nape of Switzerland's throat. My own frenzied heart did not calm until the relief shown in his eyes. "Shit, Vash- can you stop dying on me?" Turkey demanded, shaking as he picked himself off the ground. "It wasn't funny the first time, so why would it be now?"
Antonio grabbed my arm and nudged me back a little. I looked up at him, expecting him to be fully concentrated on me, but his green eyes were steadily on the man. "Get Switzerland out of here, Turkey," he ordered. For once he was authoritative, his eyes set in command, as if he regarded the Turk as someone of lower status.
Despite the centuries I've been away, he responded the way I thought he would. Turkey He rolled his eyes, kicking away the wood and bending down to toss them as well. "What the hell did you think I was going to do, jackass?" He bent down, slipping his fingers beneath the rafter. "Look, you two better give me a hand with-"
A loud boom! interrupted him. It was short, loud, and all too familiar. I hissed, placing my hands over my ears. "A gunshot?" I shouted, trying not to wheeze in the smoke. "Who's firing a gun?"
Antonio silently nudged my arm and pointed up stairs. I understood- Lars was the only one who could be irrational enough to be involved. We had to stop stalling. We had to stop him before he did anything irreversible.
With a grimace, Antonio waved goodbye to Turkey before dragging me past the reception desk, which had started to burn, and up the flight of stairs. Turkey's infuriated screams demanded us to come back and help. Contrite pains ached in my chest, but I put them aside. I'll send Turkey an apology card later. For now, it was just us and these smoke congested stairs.
It truly was lucky that countries did not die, nonetheless, get hurt easily. I'm sure that if I had been in any other body besides Liechtenstein's, I would have long ago died of smoke inhalation alone. The short strip up left me serious winded, the burning sensation spreading quickly to my lungs, but I was mostly okay.
My eyes burned. I vacantly noticed Antonio coughing and banging into the walls before we broke into the next room.
Fire was everywhere. It painted the walls in a glowing splatter, spreading like a virus to the floor. Here, all of the furniture was up in flames and only a small sphere by us was intact. Lars stood tall against the flames, a black silhouette against the light. His normally flicked-up blond hair stuck to his forehead, drenched in sweat. His worn jeans and brown jacket were singed at a few unlucky spots. His arm was held taut in front of him, a gun steady in his hands. Staring at him from the other end of the barrel was a familiar set of red eyes.
I placed an arm over my mouth as I coughed loudly, drawing attention to myself. The two men looked towards us, one with relief and the other with nonchalance. "Liech! Spain!" Gilbert cried out from his spot on the ground. A large bruise, black in the lighting, stained his pallid cheek, matching his dirtied police uniform.
I banged a fist on my chest, trying to clear my throat. "What in the world are you doing?" I finally choked out. I gave Lars a look that told him I thought he was crazy. "Why the hell is this place on fire?"
Lars face remained unchanged. His brows were a straight line over his eyes, his face drawn up in a too serious image. "It wasn't mean," he spat plainly. "I was trying to talk to that idiot there when the bomb went off."
Antonio groaned. "Then why do you have that gun?" he demanded, gesturing towards it wildly.
He did not even twitch, but a lick of annoyance lingered in his tone as he explained, "You know that I always have one on me, Spain, or have you forgotten?"
"Then why did you fire it off?"
"Because he's lying to me," he replied.
Gilbert raised his hands, shaking his head fiercely. "I swear, I have no idea what in the world Himaruya is doing right now!"
Lars snapped back towards him, falling into a knightly kneel as he grabbed the brown collar of Gilbert's shirt and jammed a gun beneath his chin. "Shut the fuck up! You have some of him in you, remember?" He shouted, gritting his teeth frustration. "It's been four centuries and you expect me to believe that Himaruya hasn't done anything yet?"
Before Gilbert could even think of nodding, Antonio leaped forward. He grabbed the gun, wrenching it free from Lars's hand. The Dutchman fell over in the process, barely missing the rim of the flames. Antonio panted, unloading the cartridge like he was programed to. "I said to wait until my word to do anything," Antonio told him, his eyes never straying from the scowling man. "Even if it takes centuries, you have to wait."
Lars flashed his teeth wolfishly, shouting, "And what about Matthias? Am I to just leave him a mindless zombie like that any longer?"
"Well I wouldn't necessarily call me mindless." I turned around, gasping at the man at the doorway. He towered over all else in the room, his blond hair sticking out at every odd so place. The perfectly large and mischievous grin that stretched across his face made my blood boil in anger. He had all of the marking of the Matthias I once knew, yet he seemed completely different.
He felt completely different.
"Long time, no see, huh?" he asked casually. Casual, but fully aware of the power he held. "How is everyone doing? I hope the bomb wasn't too inconvenient, but it was the only way to get us all in the positions we needed to be." We were all silent, but not from lack of words. I could feel the weight of our unspoken peace mingling in the smoke above us. We all thought that the other was going to speak.
Matthias eyes flitted between the four of us before finally resting on me. "Hey there, Larry-boy." He grinned, his words prompting a gasp of realization from Gilbert and Lars. "How are you doing? Enjoying your time here so far?"
I frowned, raising my chin a little. "What are you doing here?" I hissed threateningly as I narrowed my eyes into a sharp glare. "Did Himaruya send you to do his dirty work for him?"
He shrugged, brushing my words aside. "He would have if he wasn't dead. That's kind of why we're here, ya know? To bring him back to life." I bit my lip, feeling my face burn. Of course, Himaruya told me that he was going to be dead, didn't he? How could I have forgotten such an important detail? "But I'm here to tell you offer you something that's very important."
I hesitated. I glanced behind, looking at Antonio. He was holding a trembling Lars back, a human to a feral dog. His eyes told me that I was in control. I had to be the speaker in the group. As much as I wanted to ask him for his advice, I knew he was right. Gilbert was no longer reliable and Lars was blinded by emotion. I was the thread that held our patch work team together. I had to be the leader, just this once.
"And what would happen if I refused?" I asked, crossing my arms over my chest. "What would you do then?"
Matthias shrugged. "Tell you anyways."
If he was going to tell me, then it was bound to be some piece of information that would either screw with my head or help me in the end. Either way, I might get an idea how I got here in the first place. I coughed, remembering that I still had to press the cloth into my mouth. "Fine. What is it?"
His face lit up in glee. Blue eyes sparkling in the flames, he stretched out his arms in a grand gesture. "I'm here to tell you that there's a game we want to play with you," he announced. "And it's kind of a cool one too. There's other people here, people who signed contracts with us. Find them and you just might figure out your answer."
I squeezed my fist, forcing myself to frown. So they knew that I was confused and now they were going to use it against me. Frack, they knew me too well . . .
But not well enough. From the oddly content grin on Matthias's face, I knew that he had no idea how badly he slipped up.
He said that there were "people" who signed contracts.
As in more than one.
If there were other people here, then my whole situation was just taken into a whole new realm of complications. Not only did I have to figure out who these people were, but I had to determine if they were going to be working in their own self-interest or against the resurrection of Himaruya. What if it was someone whom I treasured, like Sakaya or Jerry?
I would have to think about it later, when my head was not clouded by the smoke. I asked, "What would happen if I didn't find them first?"
He laughed. "That's the best part of the game- you don't know! We might do nothing or we might do everything to them. It all really comes down if you want to take the risk."
I started to say something, but I stopped myself. Again, they knew me and my tendencies all too well. I was not going to be willing the risk of losing someone important out of silly pride, even if it was for the greater good. I fell right into their trap: I would have to take attention off of their plan in order to focus on this game.
After a few stifling moments, the blond looked down at an imaginary clock on his wrist. "And that's just about my cue to get out of here." He glanced up and gave me a congenial wave. "It was nice talking to you, Larry-boy. See you soon."
I was not going to make a move to stop him as he retreated down the stairs. I was perfectly okay with letting him leave before ushering Lars, Gilbert, and Antonio down the steps and out of this hellhole. Lars, however, did not think like me. His arms held back by the Spaniard, he sent me a spiteful glare. "What the hell are you doing?" he spat brutally. "Go after him."
I shook my head, running the fingers of my free hand through my hair. "We are in the middle of a burning building- the last thing I want to do is get into the middle of a long winded battle of soul ownerships."
"But it was Matthias-"
"I know-" I bit back the rest of my words, cursing my sudden loss of temper. The past few centuries for Lars had been spent in long wait to rescue his friend. I knew that he had to be feeling frustrated with my lack of initiative. I took a long breath, feeling myself calm. "I know, Lars," I said, tense. "But we need to take care of ourselves first, before-"
A loud boom crashed behind me. Despite the rising heat, I felt my blood run cold. I turned around, paling when I saw that the stairwell had caved in. "Oh fuck," I breathed before breaking into a sudden fit of coughing.
"That was the stairwell, wasn't it?" Gilbert asked, rising to his feet. His ever increasing anxiety spread even to me, making me feel even more jumpy. I was suddenly all too aware of the enclosing fire that encircled us. "Holy shit, how are we going to get out of here?"
And go to the next part!